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In a marked departure from his usual casual demeanor at Tea and Cookies, President Gerhard Casper used the first 20 minutes of the quarterly town-hall chat with students to respond to recent criticisms and to the "University for Students" campaign.
"It may be hard to believe, but university presidents, too, are human beings," Casper said. He described a promotional advertisement in the Jan. 27 issue of the Stanford Review that featured a picture of him with a German caption that read "Our Führer says, 'I love this newspaper!' "
"In view of the crimes perpetrated by Hitler, the Nazis and by Germans, I am utterly and completely discouraged by the fact that there are Stanford students who believe it is funny to call me Führer," Casper said.
Referring to a letter in a recent issue of the Stanford Daily, Casper said he did not feel he had a public image problem, as the writer had suggested.
"With me, you have got what you see," he said. "You may not like what you see. That is your privilege. But what you see is me."
Casper also addressed several issues raised by the president and vice president of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), who have launched a campaign to reform the role of universities in society.
The "University for Students" campaign focuses on three general principles: 1) universities were created for students; 2) they are fundamentally different from for-profit businesses; and 3) they not only should provide a private benefit but also should work for the public welfare and be aware of their social impact.
Casper said his administration has never lost sight of the fact that universities exist for students.
"Stanford is second to none in the country in being engaged in the most thorough reexamination of how it is serving undergraduate students," he said. He said he had taught three courses during the past five years and had spent countless hours discussing issues of undergraduate education with students.
Casper pointed out that "an institution that subsidizes both students and research and can balance its books only because of gifts from alumni and friends hardly meets the most rudimentary expectations concerning profit maximization."
"The university," he noted, "is one of the most noble forms of public service I know."
Casper also addressed recent criticisms of the Stanford Fund and student calls for a socially responsible endowment.
"I have worked very hard to establish the Stanford Fund," Casper said, noting that it plays an important role in supporting undergraduate education by encouraging alumni to donate money for current undergraduate needs.
Casper said about 60 percent of the money raised by the Stanford Fund in 1995-96 went toward financial aid and the rest was allocated to freshman seminars, the Center for Teaching and Learning's project on oral communication, the Stanford ballet and the student partnership program, which helps students earn money for student organizations.
Casper suggested that the student proposal for a socially responsible endowment fund would hurt the Stanford Fund. Linking Stanford Fund money, which is raised on an annual basis and spent on current needs, with the endowment would confuse donors and result in decreased support for the educational mission of the university, Casper said.
"If students want to diminish financial aid funds for their successors, the way to do that is to fight the Stanford Fund," he said. "If students want to deprive student organizations of support, the way to do that is to fight the Stanford Fund. If seniors want to deprive the Stanford Fund of matching funds from the parents and the Bing challenge, the way to do it is not to participate in the Senior Class Gift."
In an interview after the town-hall meeting, Nick Thompson, ASSU vice president and co-author of the proposal to set up a socially responsible endowment fund, said that the creation of a separate endowment fund was never intended to detract from the Stanford Fund.
"There's an implicit assumption that Stanford will have less money if this fund is set up, and we think that assumption is faulty," he said. "We would argue that more students and alums will give to the university if there is an option."
ASSU president Bill Shen said that the principles laid out in the "University for Students" campaign are wide-ranging but also valuable.
"There are certain frustrations that we are trying to articulate with these principles and they are finally getting out," he said. "We take issue, for example, with the idea that the administration knows what's best for students. While that may be true in many instances, we would like to be heard on a lot of these ideas."
Casper concluded the session with a point from his inaugural speech that he said should be a guiding principle of today's universities.
"Members of the university community must not shy away from the social and political issues of their time, from shaping the social and political values of society and from engaging in public service. Public service is their freedom, indeed their obligation," he said. "It is not, however, the university's freedom.
"The university's freedom and obligation are to provide a forum for the most searching and candid discussion of public issues. But as one of the century's foremost First Amendment scholars, the late Harry Kalven, said, a university 'cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives.'"
By Marisa Cigarroa